By Valerie Baldowski
NASCAR fans are coming in early, in anticipation of the Emory Health Care 500 race, to be held during Labor Day weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS).
The race, scheduled for Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m., will feature the top racers in the sport, battling for first place.
Some fans arrived as early as Aug. 20, according to raceway officials. Campers and recreational vehicles could be seen parked along the sides of some roads on AMS property on Thursday. Many are waiting for an unreserved camping space to become available on Saturday.
The Emory Health Care 500 is a popular event in the racing community, said Matthew Simmons, marketing and promotions coordinator for AMS.
"Coming on the heels of last year's spectacular Labor Day NASCAR night racing weekend, we started seeing fans arrive even earlier for this year's event, beginning last Friday," said Simmons. "We plan on hosting the largest Labor Day celebration in the country. We'll have concerts, fireworks, campground parties and grilling, and, of course, the best NASCAR night racing on the circuit. It's apparent from the lines for camping that the fans are ready for the party."
Two fans camping out on the AMS grounds on Thursday were Reggie Lawrence, of Griffin, and John Singleton, of East Point.
The men were lounging in outdoor chairs under the shade of a tree, next to a two-person tent they pitched on the grass near an entrance to the track.
Lawrence said he arrived early. "I was the first person to get here. I got here Monday, at 8 a.m.," he said.
Getting to the track early enough to stake out a good spot gave them an opportunity to visit before other race fans arrived from farther away, said Lawrence. "We're local, we like to just come down and hang out, and [have] good times," he said.
A long-time patron of the AMS, Lawrence said he has frequented the track at race times since 1979. The appeal of NASCAR racing, he said, is its social aspects.
"I like to ... meet a lot of guys, have block parties, just come down and chill out," said Lawrence. "Good people, good times. These guys will offer you a beer, they'll give you something to eat. They're good folks."
Singleton said he arrived at AMS after Lawrence. "I got here yesterday by 3 p.m.," he said. Like Lawrence, Singleton said he is also a loyal AMS patron. The appeal of the races comes from the sport's high volume level, and the chance to meet the racers one-on-one, said Singleton.
"I've been coming down here for 13 years," he said. "The adrenaline comes from the loud noise of the engines, getting to meet the drivers, [and] going to the pits."
Another enjoyable aspect of the races is the opportunity to walk from campsite to campsite, and meet new friends, said Singleton.